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Blues Master Gary Clark Jr returns with album, This Land

For the last several years, Gary Clark Jr has been renowned for his amazing talent as a guitarist; as well as returning the earthy, rustic sound of 60s/70s Rock N’ Roll and Blues to modern music that so many mourn the loss of. While he did well with his first two studio albums, some have criticized them for characteristics such as being “over-produced.” While he stays true to his previous music, Clark made some changes for This Land that allow his songs to sound better as studio recordings than they have in the past. He also decided that he wanted to try using his voice and influence to tackle some important social issues, which he avoided in the past.

The first single and track is “This Land,” a strong and impactful statement about his life experiences, both past and present. It starts with a deep, warped keyboard before the electric guitar slides in, both following a tune that immediately lets you know you’re in for a rough, but exhilarating ride. Stylistically, Clark generally stays within the realm of contemporary Blues Rock while incorporating a few aspects of Reggae and Hip Hop. The sound is extremely rugged and harsh, showing his anger loud and clear, though the lyrics make that known more than well enough on their own. In the first verse, he says that he’s finally gotten the money to buy “fifty acres and a model A,” the kind of home he’s said he always wanted when he was young. But living in his home state of Texas, he immediately locates it “right in the middle of Trump country,” with neighbors just waiting to report him to the police; a familiar story now to most Americans. This is based on when Clark and his family moved into the house, a white neighbor approached him, demanding to know whose house it was and refusing to believe it was his. In defiance to such occurrences, he states in the pre-chorus that “this is mine now legit, I ain’t leavin’ and you can’t take it from me.” The chorus, however, is what forces you to stop and listen to the lyrics as he quotes the taunters from his past (and possibly present): “I remember when you used to tell me ‘n***a run, n***a run, Go back where you come from.'” But he then fires back with “F**k you, I’m America’s son. This is where I come from, This land is mine.” These lyrics have caused a stir amongst some listeners, particularly those who claim that the song only further divides the country and reopens old wounds of events that are supposedly dead and gone. What they fail to understand is that he’s talking about his own experiences with blatant racism and prejudice from when he was growing up until now. Therefore, it’s unfortunately still very relevant.

“What About Us” is anthem-like, warning the older generation and their aged ideologies that “the young blood’s takin’ over.” To somewhat clarify exactly what Clark means by this, the music video takes place in a trailer park and features multiple unconventional pairs. This includes two seemingly lesbian couples, one younger and one older, a mixed race elderly couple, and a single father with his child. It implies that such relationships and lifestyles can be accepted as a new normal.

As social commentary like this is new for Clark, listeners are used to songs about love, heartbreak, and his personal strife. Luckily for them, he’s far from forgotten about that, despite having some new subject matter. For example, “I Got My Eyes On You” is a deep, slow-paced, seductive track that grows into a passionate explosion of guitar with the expression of an almost desperate desire. “Don’t Wait Til Tomorrow” has a slightly lighter beat and sweeter yet troubled vocal tone to draw you in. While “Feelin’ Like A Million” also works with the vibe of seduction, it takes up a completely different style. The hint of Reggae found in “This Land” now pushes through and demands to be noticed. It also has a much more upbeat and dance-provoking groove while maintaining a Rock edge.

In the somewhat more conventionally Blues Rock tracks like “I Walk Alone” and “Low Down Rolling Stone,” he dives into some of his deeper and more self-critical thoughts. In these two in particular, he focuses on his feeling of loneliness, even saying he may deserve to be lonely, and in both mentions his embracing of the darkness that frequently surrounds him. “Pearl Cadillac” and “When I’m Gone” are more about the sadness that comes with having to leave your family for the sake of your career. Stylistically, both can take you back with features of old school R&B strung into them. “Pearl Cadillac” is a little bitter-sweetly toned down and is one of the songs to feature Clark’s Marvin Gaye-channeling falsetto. It talks about leaving his parents to try and make something of himself, in the chorus stating: “I was searchin’ for some kinda way to pay you back, For your love…And I won’t let you down, I’mma make you proud.” “When I’m Gone” has a much lighter mood and is directed towards his and wife and especially their two children. It feels like something meant to make his family feel better about him being on the road, as he says “When I get home, I’m gonna hold you just a little bit closer.” Similarly, “Guitar Man” likely is directed towards his wife, both celebrating how far they’ve come and acknowledging how hard it must be for her. But he also reassures what an important part of his life she is.

There are two tracks where he reverts back to his rawest form of traditional Blues. “The Governor,” featured at the end of “This Land’s” music video and also sharing its lyric about “[his] friend the governor,” is more picked up and performed classically with an acoustic steel guitar, drums, and Clark’s vocals. “Dirty Dishes Blues” is a slower tune of heartbreak, played with electric guitar, a kick drum + tambourine, and vocals.

Having a total of seventeen songs, including bonus tracks, This Land may feel like an overwhelming album to approach. However you see it, the record is very interestingly crafted, containing a variety of stories and genres. As always, Clark keeps the core of his music surrounding Rock and Blues, but sporadically ties in R&B, Soul, Reggae, Hip Hop, etc. He’s been criticized considerably on his past albums for not being able to capture in the studio the same astonishing, raw skill that he displays on stage. Though he may still have some learning and development to catch up on in that area, it seems that he’s definitely making progress and said himself that he thinks he’s finally found his sound with this album.

 

“This Land” Music Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KgNaRQ_J-c